While 2019 saw many disappointing performances for the Brewers, none were quite as disappointing as Corbin Burnes’.
After an electric debut in 2018, the organization’s former Minor League Pitcher of the Year saw things fall apart for him almost from the start last season. His first career start seemed like it might be historic, when he struck out just about every St. Louis Cardinal that walked to the plate, ending up with 12 strikeouts before they seemed to figure him out, tagging him for 4 earned runs on 3 homers.
Things quickly went downhill from there, and he lost his rotation spot by May. Even trips to the minors and a return to the bullpen couldn’t quite get him back on track, as any sort of sustained success proved to be elusive.
Much of the blame was his approach, which focused on a high-spin fastball that should be much better than it actually is. Despite possessing one of the better sliders in the game, Burnes continued to rely on his fastball — and throwing it low in the zone, which is an especially bad place to throw a high-spin fastball, due to how far it can travel. He even seemed defensive at times last season, trying to say he needed to throw the fastball before he could use his much better slider.
It appears that’s going to change this year.
On top of rumors in the winter that Burnes has been reworking his mechanics, it sounds like he’s been shown the light by the Brewers’ analytics department and the much-hyped “pitching lab.” Talking to reporters today, he says he’s almost completely scrapped his fastball-first approach from last season, and plans to instead base everything around his knockout slider this year.
Was fascinating talking to #Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes this morning. After rough 2019, he underwent thorough mental and physical program over the offseason, basically remaking himself. Says we will see a big difference. We will post a video soon.— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 13, 2020
You’d think Corbin Burnes would want to wipe the slate clean after his nightmare 2019. But you’d be wrong. Here’s Burnes on a plan to build around a slider that ranks among baseball’s best, according to the data. pic.twitter.com/05DHdYrMVF— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 13, 2020
It’s understandable if you want to take this with a grain of salt, since these types of stories are extremely common in the first few days after pitchers report to Spring Training. “Developed a new approach/pitch” is right up there with “best shape of his life” in terms of camp cliches — speaking of which, Shelby Miller reportedly lost 35 pounds — but if it ends up working out and Burnes can be the quality mid-rotation starter people thought he would be last year, the Brewers’ pitching situation suddenly looks a lot better than most figured it would.
When asked if Burnes would start the year in Triple-A if he doesn’t make the rotation or if he’d be a member of the big league bullpen, Craig Counsell didn’t give a clear answer.
Craig Counsell talks about the work done in offseason by #Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes to improve himself. pic.twitter.com/3pbeyfLO5z— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 13, 2020
Earlier in the winter, the Brewers said they see both Burnes and Freddy Peralta as starters heading into spring camp. Where they end up at the end of it may depend on what else happens over the next month.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference